Remembering Ryan Shay – feature from 2005

This feature appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Nov. 5, 2005, almost two years to the day before the talented distance runner died of a heart attack while competing in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City.

Shay aims for better results at NYC Marathon

By Ed Odeven

Today, Ryan Shay will begin his morning like millions of other Americans — with breakfast (his usual meal: oatmeal with honey).

And then he’ll get to work.

In reality, he has no time to relax this weekend. After all, the New York City Marathon is today, and Shay will run 26.2 miles through Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island. The race ends at Central Park.

Shay finished ninth at the 2004 NYC Marathon, becoming only the fourth American in the past 11 years to place in the top 10. He ran the race in 2 hours, 14 minutes and 8 seconds. (South Africa’s Hendrik Raamala won last year’s race in 2:09.28.)

In a recent interview, Shay, who has spent much of the past several months training at NAU’s Center for High Altitude Training, said he feels he’s on pace to do even better this year.

“I would like to see a minute PR (personal record) in the marathon,” he said, resting on a bench at Lumberjack Stadium. “If I can run between 2:12 and 2:13, I’d be happy.”

The ex-University of Notre Dame runner, placed 15th at the 2005 IAA World Half Marathon Championships in October in Edmonton, Alberta. It was the best-ever finish by an American male at the competition.

So how excited is he for the start of this morning’s race?

“Right now I don’t want to waste any more emotional energy than necessary,” the 26-year-old Michigan native said. “But when I actually do get to New York the excitement level will raise quite a bit. … It’s always good, exciting energy when you’re coming to New York City.”

An estimated 35,000 runners will race today, but not all of them will begin at the same time. A group of 50-100 elite runners will start before the main group.

“I think the field in New York City is a little more difficult than last year,” Shay said. “It’s going to be tougher competition. I think they recruited a few more top-quality international runners, so it’s very possible that I could run a minute faster and still place the same. … I’m a competitor so the goal of mine is to once again finish in the top 10.”

Shay runs between 120-140 miles per week. He runs on various trails and hills and also does what he calls “interval work” at Lumberjack Stadium.

“The training is going well,” he added. “I like the progress I’ve made so far.”

Perhaps the key to Shay’s excellent condition is that he doesn’t take off-days while training for a marathon.

“I won’t take any days off, but I will have a couple recovery days a week,” he said. “Typically, a recovery day will follow a hard interval day or a hard workout day will be followed by a recovery run.”

Shay’s other workout activities, including muscle-core-strengthening exercises using a physio ball, plyometric drills and the use of a speed ladder, have been done at DeRosa Physical Therapy here in town.

“Some people are like, ‘Well, why does a marathon runner need to do that?’ he said, in reference to the muscle-strengthening exercises. “Well, in the marathon you need those smaller stabilizing muscles to help support the larger muscles.”

When he begins today’s marathon, Shay, the 2003 USA Marathon champion and ’03 USA Half-Marathon winner already knows how he’ll approach the race.

“I like to not think about the race for the first half of the marathon,” he said. “I just want to get into my goal pace that I’m going to run.”

Then he said, “You get into your groove, so to speak, and then I just try to take in my surroundings to try to make the time go by a little quicker, at least for the first half of the marathon. … As you begin to hurt more, then you are focusing more on racing and it’s more of a conscious effort now to maintain pace.”

The last four miles, he continued, is when “the racing really starts. … It becomes almost a race of attrition, who can basically maintain the longest.”

In recent years, Shay has trained in Mammoth Lake, Calif., with Abdi Abdirahman, a 2000 U.S. Olympian in the 10,000 meters. The two got along well and came to Flagstaff to train together. The Center for High Altitude Training’s head coach, Dr. Jack Daniels, and Joe Vigil, the center’s senior coaching consultant, have assisted them in their training.

The two feed off each other during practices, Shay revealed.

“With Abdi training with me, I think that he’s maybe learned how to train harder, more consistent, because he always tells me I train harder than anybody he’s ever trained with,” Shay added. “And I’ve learned from Abdi basically how to stay within my limits more to be a little smarter how to push a run and when not to.

“If you want to be a good marathoner, you have to be patient and I feel I’m pretty patient. I had to learn that, though,” he continued. “I wasn’t at first. But with a marathon, it’s patience (that) goes hand in hand with emotional control.”

This means “learning not to exert all your energy too soon.”

Shay predicted that Abdirahman, who has made the jump from the 10K to marathons in recent years, can be a bona-fide threat to win the NYC Marathon today.

“If everything goes his way and he has a great race, he can win it,” Shay added. “He’s that talented and he’s put in the work. … I think for him a top-five finish is definitely reasonable.”

THE FINAL WORD

“It’s a long race. There’s so many variables. On any given day, anything can happen. … The marathon is one of the hardest events to predict a winner,” Shay said.

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Family ties: A college football player dedicated his play, life to late mother’s memory

This feature appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Oct. 5, 2005

In memory of Mom

By Ed Odeven

Receiver Geoff Ducksworth plays every game for his late mother, Andrea

Like other college football players, NAU senior receiver Geoff Ducksworth thinks about the keys to victory before every game. He remembers what his team learned about its next foe from watching film. And he knows what’ll be expected of him in the next four quarters.

Ducksworth’s pregame routine also differs from many players’.

“Before I play a football game, I point to the sky and know she’s watching before I come out the tunnel,” Ducksworth said Wednesday, revealing how he remembers his late mother on game day.

“I’m not trying to celebrate it or (want) people to think it’s a a cocky thing or some kind of showboating. I try to keep myself private in that respect. But I tell it like this: Every day I live is a representation of her and how she raised me.”

Ducksworth was born in New Orleans. His father, James, died when he was 4. His mother, Andrea, a nurse, raised him and his sisters Sara and Yvonne and brother James Jr.

They lived in Ontario, Canada, for a dozen years and later relocated to Germany before settling in the Valley of the Sun. It was there where Ducksworth came into his own as an athlete.

A 2000 graduate of Paradise Valley High School, he rushed for a school-record 1,819 yards and had a pair of 97-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns as a senior.

Fast forward to December 2002. Ducksworth was a standout receiver at Glendale Community College. His team had earned a No. 4 national ranking and went on to play in the Valley of the Sun Bowl.

As his team prepared for the bowl game, Ducksworth’s life changed drastically.

“My mom had been sick,” he recalled. “She’d been battling blood clots and things like that, so she went to the hospital and stayed the night. It was pretty much a regular occurrence for about six months, so I didn’t think too much of it.”

Then he received a shocking phone call.

“The doctor told me she had lung cancer,” he said. “My father passed away from lung cancer when I was 4 and she had quit (smoking) for about 20 years. So it took me by surprise. It just happened so quickly.

“They gave her maybe six months (to live), but they didn’t even want to guarantee that because she could’ve been gone at any time.”

TRYING TIMES

In 2003, Ducksworth planned to transfer to a university, continue his studies and play football. He had received interest from Northern Illinois and Idaho State, Southern Utah and NAU, among other schools. But when it was time to finalize his plans, Ducksworth chose NAU.

The decision was a no-brainer.

“I wanted to make sure that I could redshirt because I wanted to be with my mother every weekend as much as I could,” said Ducksworth, who was a walk-on and didn’t play in 2003.

Ducksworth’s mom stayed at a Phoenix-area hospice during her battle with cancer. He managed her account there because his older brother lives in Canada.

Besides juggling his academic workload and the physical demands of being a college football player, Ducksworth struggled with the emotional hardships of seeing his mother in pain.

“But the coaching staff was (very accommodating),” he said, “Anytime I needed, they let me go (visit her).

“My family and I, we’ve gotten a lot closer dealing with this, but it was a very, very stressful time. I had anxiety attacks and things like that.”

Through it all, Andrea Ducksworth tried to remain positive.

“She did tell me she was going to beat it,” her son said.

This outlook, he said, helped her.

“My mom, she had goals, she set goals,” he said. “She wanted to see my sister graduate and that would’ve been about eight months. She had another goal to make sure that we were all OK — that we were all going to do well for ourselves. I think when she finally realized we were all going to do all right, I think that’s when she passed away.”

“I remember she told me she was ready to go.”

She died April 8, 2004.

ON HIS OWN

Andrea Ducksworth’s death gave her younger son a chance to reflect on his upbringing, a chance to apply in his daily life what she had taught him.

“I’m not a quitter and she never raised me to be a quitter,” he said. “I stuck with it.”

For Ducksworth, this meant taking out student loans to help support him and his younger sister, Sara. It meant waking up early to study for classes. It meant working at Fry’s Food & Drug Store on Route 66 after a long day of school and practice — he unloaded the produce trucks between 6 p.m. and midnight.

“Geoff Ducksworth has had a very difficult life in my opinion,” Lumberjacks coach Jerome Souers said. “Maybe nobody’s life is real easy, but his is a lot tougher than most I’ve seen, yet his attitude is unmoved.”

Last spring, the Lumberjack coaching staff gave Ducksworth a scholarship for his senior season. It’s a reminder of his importance to the team, on and off the field.

“Being independent and self-sufficient is something that he’s learned to do,” Souers said. “He has great balance of learning football’s important, but so is school and so is being a role model. It’s important to him to be a good friend, to be a good teammate. I think you’ll find the closer you look at Geoff Ducksworth you’ll find great qualities that you’d like to see in any young man.”

Gary Guthmiller, NAU’s receivers coach, said Ducksworth has been the consummate teammate and the Jacks’ most well-prepared receiver.

“I can put him anywhere on the field and expect that he knows everything that’s going to go on at every position,” Guthmiller added.

“He’s my rock. He’s the guy I can count on. He’s the guy I can trust.”

FAMILY INFLUENCES

In NAU’s 38-24 loss at Sacramento State last Saturday, Ducksworth, who also plays gunner on the punt-return unit, had a season-high three catches for 59 yards. He said it’s tough to find satisfaction from personal accomplishments because the team lost.

That said, he realizes his sticking with football was the right thing to do.

“My mom was proud of me,” he said candidly. “She let me know that for sure.”

Ducksworth’s athleticism comes from his father’s side of the family (several family members played on Southern University teams and one uncle was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals).

His mother’s interests and talents were artistic. She performed in off-Broadway musicals and took an acting class taught by famous instructor Lee Strasberg.

“She was in the same class as Marilyn Monroe,” he said, smiling.

And though she supported her son’s athletic endeavors, she also tried to give him a well-rounded childhood.

“She made sure that for every sports camp I went to I had to take pottery class or an acting class or stuff like that,” Ducksworth said.

But more than anything, Andrea Ducksworth taught her son how to endure tough times.

“I feel like I’m a strong person because of her,” he said.

Ducksworth turns 23 in November. His future is up in the air, he admits. He’s expressed interest in selling homes in the Valley or playing in the Canadian Football League.

Yet through it all, one thing remains certain:

“I’ve dedicated my life to my mom,” he said.

Chronicles from an Australian Football League team’s Arizona training camp

This feature appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Nov. 5, 2005.

These Magpies migrate half a world away

By Ed Odeven

You think six weeks in sunny Florida or Arizona shagging fly balls, running the bases, taking extra infield practice and working on the hit-and-run is an exhausting way to spend the baseball preseason?

Try spending two weeks with the Collingwood Magpies of the Australian Football League.

The Magpies departed Flagstaff Friday morning for their return to Melbourne after a two-week stay here, the team’s first training camp at NAU’s Center for High Altitude Training.

It included weight-training sessions at the Skydome, football skills exercises, running, boxing and an assortment of other activities – mountain biking in Sedona, trekking to the top of Mount Humphreys, hiking the Grand Canyon and completing a series of obstacle-course/roping activities on NAU’s Challenger Course on which Nicholas Hageman and his staff tailored the course to be more difficult than usual.

And by the way, the Magpies don’t hold their first preseason game until mid-February!

“This’ll be a good leg up for preseason training,” said Magpies head coach Mick Malthouse, while keeping an eye on his players Wednesday morning at NAU’s East Fields.

Yes, indeed. The Magpies, who brought more than 40 players to Flagstaff, returned to Melbourne today and resume training Monday. “I think we’ve had one official day off in the two weeks, so it’s been pretty hectic,” Malthouse said. “They’ve enjoyed it and they are starting to show the signs now of tiredness, and that’s what we expected. By the time we leave Friday morning, I will say they will be reasonably exhausted and looking forward to going home. But they will understand when they get back the benefits of being here have been enormous.”

“Quite frankly, I’ll say right now with only a few days to go, it’s been a terrific bonus for us.”

Dr. David “Butters” Buttifant, the Magpies’ head of conditioning, suggested that the club come to Flagstaff. In his former job with the New South Wales Institute of Sport, he came to Flagstaff with well-known Olympic swimmers like Elka Graham and Ian Thorpe and directly saw the benefits high-altitude training had for the swimmers. (The Magpies prepared for the trip by frequenting the altitude room at their training facilities back home.)

After they arrived in Arizona, they attended a Suns-SuperSonics exhibition game, then quickly got to work.

“We’ve probably never in the history of the Center for High Altitude Training dealt with a team that has done so many different things,” said Sean Anthony, the Center’s assistant director. “Usually, the training camps are pretty straight forward.”

And it’s not just the players who worked up a sweat.

“This is the most well-conditioned support staff that I’ve ever seen,” Anthony said. “It’s amazing when you see the drills that these guys are going through.. …. Everyone’s out there doing drills with them. Their coach, Mick Malthouse, the legendary Mick Malthouse, he’s 60 years old and he’s out there running the same drills they are – he climbed Humphreys, he went mountain biking in Sedona, he did the Grand Canyon. … You take your average American coach and regardless of sports and, boy, most of them aren’t out there participating in all the drills.”

This trip was designed to be exhausting.

“We wanted to make the commitment that we were going to work harder than anybody else this year,” says Reg Crawford, Magpies chief of staff, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Australian Special Air Service.

Call this the Magpies’ own two-week version of X Games: Aussie style. The main attractions:

A 25-kilometer hike/bike ride in Sedona.

An 18-mile hike up Mount Humphreys.

A trek from the top of the Grand Canyon to the bottom and back again.

“They went rim to river and back in 7 1/2 hours,” Anthony marveled. “They talked about (captain) Nathan Buckley standing out on this big rock taking a picture. He’s the team captain. He’s a legend in Australia. He’s the best football player Collingwood’s had in the last 40 years, and he’s standing over a 200-foot drop (that makes me nervous).”

The Magpies’ Grand Canyon excursion might’ve set some record, if records were kept of such things, for an exhausting hike like this one. Guide books say to plan for a 10- to 15-hour trip. They had several hours to spare!

Said Crawford: “A lot of people say, ‘It can’t be done. I’m not going to be able to do it.’ And then they achieve it, and your mind just gets expanded a lot more than it was before.”

AUSSIE FOOTBALL

Crawford has only been on the job for three weeks. Mostly, he’s in charge of coordinating the team’s coaching activities.

He considers himself a “keen sportsman,” even though he never played Aussie football – his background is in rugby.

“I come from a totally foreign code to these guys,” he said with a chuckle.

Even so, he had no trouble explaining the basic concepts of Australian Rules Football.

“If you were to combine soccer and gridiron, it’s perhaps what you’d get when you have Australian Rules Football,” he said. “The objective is to get to the other end and score. We are very much like soccer where we score through goals – they are more upright than soccer goals – and we have to kick to score goals. But we are similar to gridiron as well. It’s a very physical game. There’s a lot of body contact, so there’s a lot of use of the hands as well.

“We have a combination where we run, we kick and we pass with our hands.”

There are 18 players per side in Aussie football ( many refer to is as “footy”.) Each team dresses 22 players per game, so only four reserves can be used.

RABID FAN BASE

The Magpies are the most popular footy team in Australia. The team’s official Web site, http://www.collingwoodfc.com.au, posted daily updates on the team during its stay in Flagstaff, including video footage of practice and activities such as the rope-climbing exercises.

Doug Krause, an American living in San Diego, became a fan of the sport in 2002. He’s since become an avid supporter of the Magpies and follows the team on Fox Sports World telecasts and Net.

When he found out the Magpies were coming to Flagstaff, Krause made the eight-hour drive here.

After a recent practice, he was interviewed by Collingwood TV, which is owned by the team, and got to Malthouse and the team’s ultra-popular captain, Nathan Buckley.

Buckley, in fact, invited Krause to have lunch with him and his teammates at NAU’s University Union.

“To put it into the American vernacular,” Krause said of Buckley, “he is easily as famous and well-respected in Aussie Rules as Magic Johnson or Joe Montana were in their sports. … So meeting him was a wonderful experience, I consider myself very, very lucky.”

And what was that experience like?

“We talked a little bit about how the team has been doing in the last couple of years (not great), and he and the rest of the team are very optimistic about turning that around.

“But mostly we talked about normal stuff: what I do for a living, their families back home, how some of the players got their nicknames, their trip to the Grand Canyon, how we celebrate Halloween, etc.

“I had lunch with a legend of sport, and he and all of his teammates were gracious, interesting and down to earth. Not many people can say that.”

Australians Geoff and Adele Sinclair, a friendly middle-aged couple on vacation in the Southwest, stood on NAU’s East Fields Wednesday morning waiting for the team’s skills practice to commence. It started late because the team spent extra time in the Skydome weight room.

No problem, the Sinclairs proclaimed. They patiently awaited the start of drills and spoke about their lifelong support of the club.

Are you excited to be here? I asked Adele.

“Yeah, my word, absolutely,” Adele said, bundled up in a thick coat and a Magpies scarf.

And who’s your favorite player?

“James Clement.”

Why?

“Because he’s the best defender in the competition,” she decided.

Geoff Sinclair was then asked what he think about his beloved Magpies traveling halfway around the world to work for two grueling weeks of training.

“Well, if it’s got to be something different, perhaps it works, because it’s good for team bonding,” he said. “You couldn’t do anything better for team bonding than this.”

Magpies midfielder Paul Licuria agreed.

“I believe it’s been beneficial,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot closer over the last few days. An issue we had before we’d come here was we weren’t a very close group. … It’s been good. We’ve gotten a lot closer, definitely.”

BIG-TIME EXPOSURE

For the Center for High Altitude Training, having a team of the Magpies’ stature in Flagstaff has been a win-win situation.

They are the first Aussie football team to come here, the first pro team sport to visit.

“It’s a big deal to have these guys here,” he said.

And they are already talking about coming back next year. Though they don’t want to announce it to everyone.

“What I’ve noticed during the course of the camp is that the team feels a sense of ownership over a site like this,” Anthony said.

“My intuition tells me that they wouldn’t be very happy about seeing another Australian Rules Football team here. … They want to think of this as their retreat.”

Maybe so, but Malthouse suggested his club’s Flagstaff training camp could trigger a new trend for footy clubs. The word is out, he said matter-of-factly.

For now, Flagstaff residents can take pride in knowing that the New York Yankees of Australian football find this town a good place to hold training camp.

“One Ticket, Please”

A fictional tale penned a decade ago…

“One Ticket, Please”
By Ed Odeven
Christmas Eve, 2004

An advertisement appears in dozens of newspapers around the world, in dozens of languages, Icelandic and Italian, Swahili and Russian, Navajo and Vietnamese, and is plastered for all to see at neighborhood kiosks and schools, cafes and office buildings, laundromats and mini-marts.

The ad proclaims the promotion of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: a one-way train ticket from Santa Claus’s North Pole headquarters to anywhere in the world. But, wait, there’s more: This special locomotive, actually, only travels back in time to any place, any day you desire.

There’s just one rule: One visit per winner.

Entries arrive by the thousands as the deadline approaches.

Finally, the seven winners are selected.

One by one, they receive “The Call” from Santa Claus.

The winners can’t believe it. They jump for joy, laugh, hug their spouses, best friends, children, neighbors … anyone who’s within hiking distance.

After their euphoric celebrations, they ponder how to spend their special days.

An aging Syrian sculptor hopes to teach Palestinian youth to use their hands to create beautiful works of art with their Israeli neighbors, giving them something to do, he prays, instead of becoming suicide bombers, or throwing homemade bombs and stones at Israeli soldiers.

A skinny Brazilian boy, who some say possesses the best bicycle kick since Pele, thinks of nothing but suiting up for his native country in the 1970 World Cup and scoring the winning goal on, of course, a jaw-dropping pass from Pele.

A blind Navajo lady, who lost her sight due to diabetes and now lives in a nursing home in Phoenix, dreams to see the sunset at Monument Valley – the ones she remembers from her youth – one last time.

A billionaire carpentry distribution proprietor from Mississippi, who secretly owns the world’s largest collection of European paintings, imagines visiting the Vienna, Austria, art school Adolf Hitler wanted to attend in his younger days and giving the school’s principal the world’s best pep talk, one to convince him to allow young Adolf to enter the school and stick to painting rather than pursue his ill-conceived vision of world domination.

Hinault, a Haitian heart transplant recipient, yearns to visit Germany the day of The Fall Of The Berlin Wall and share in the blessed experienced with Hilda of Hamburg, who prolonged his life by becoming an organ donor.

Amani, a dignified diplomat from Sudan’s Dinka tribe and an aspiring connoisseur of fine cuisine, wants to watch the Great Guillaume perform his culinary magic at New Orleans’ Galatoire’s during a busy holiday evening. (Remember, Amani excitedly tells anyone who’ll listen, it’s been said, “Going to a [New Orleans] restaurant isn’t something you do before you go out. It’s why you go out.”)

A little Iraqi girl named Latifah, who’s always delighted by the sights and sounds coming from her satellite TV on Saturday nights when she watches “It’s Showtime At The Apollo” with her aunties, dreams of singing a duet with Alicia Keys at the famous Harlem theater.

The winners are transported to the North Pole, where they gather for a special dinner with Santa.

Then they’re issued their tickets.

A tall fellow in a red hat greets them at the train station, smiles and says, “All aboard!”

The rest is simply magical. Just close your eyes and imagine the rest.